I do not understand the exact meaning of this statement: "Detachment is not that you should own nothing, but that nothing should own you."

  • It might help you understand it if you began by explaining the context. – WS2 Aug 6 '15 at 6:56
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    Two Google Books matches attribute this saying to Ali bin Abi Talib, but neither provides any greater context for the remark. In simplest terms, I think, it means that "detachment" as a virtue of mind does not involve renouncing the ownership of all possessions, but rather involves retaining perspective about the true value of possessions in the greater scheme of life. Presumably, when one does that, the possessions do not have outsize importance and thus do not rule one's life (or in other words, do not "own you"). – Sven Yargs Aug 6 '15 at 7:12
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    I think instead of "detachment " it should be "asceticism " and you will understand it very easily. The original quote in Arabic is: ليس الزهد ان لا تملك شيئاً لكن الزهد ان لا يملكك شيء – user180589 Jun 12 '16 at 17:42
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    It is a definition (of sorts) of "detachment". "Detachment" is not thing A but rather thing B. – Hot Licks Jun 12 '16 at 18:08

This seems like a Buddhist idea. An item owns you if you invest time and resources maintaining it and even possibly define yourself by those items. You can have things but you should be ready to let go of the items, like a mandala.

The reason for this idea in Buddhism is the belief that excess desire is the root of pain. All things in life are temporary, you can appreciate them while they exist but it hurts you to cling to things that cannot be.

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    Interestingly, Google says this is from Islam. – SomethingDark Aug 7 '15 at 5:24

The first half of the quote is fairly straightforward.

Detachment does not mean that you cannot own material possessions

The second half requires a slightly more artistic interpretation, but in this context it effectively means that

the acquisition and possession of material possessions should not be your chief priority.

Googling your quote shows a related quote:

Detachment is when the dunya remains in our hand – not in our heart.


This phrase in simple terms just means "Do not get attached to anyone or anything, to the extent that you cannot survive independent of it or them".

When it is in reference to a person, it means you may love someone dearly and have them in your life, but you should not allow your life to revolve around that person, making it seem that they control your life.


I think it means that no body should have strings controlling you.

For example, libertarians tend to avoid anything government infested. So no politicians can control you.

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